King Tutankhamun

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Two trumpets, one silver and the other bronze, found in King Tut’s tomb are the oldest known trumpets in the world. They were found by Carter, wrapped in reeds and they were tarnished. The silver trumpet is on display. Although tarnished, according to Carter, if played, it would fill the valley with a resounding blast. However, playing it may not be a good idea. For the first time after 3300 years, it was played in spring 1939 and aired on the BBC; it was played from the Egyptian Museum, by a bandsman of Prince Albert’s 11th Royal Hussars, giving ‘human breath for the first time in more than 3000 years’. Just before the recording, the lights went out! And strangely, the Second World War started just after!

It was played again in mid-1967 and, following that, the Six Day War started! It was played again in early 1990 and then the Desert Storm, or the First Gulf War, started in 1991! Enough? No. It was played again in 2011 and this was followed by the Egyptian Revolution! But not to worry, it will not be played again and in any case it is too fragile now.

Silver Military Trumpet and its core. Image courtesy of classicfm(
I somehow missed taking this picture!

Boats had a role to play in a kingdom with one of the greatest rivers in the world, the Nile. Tarek states that the geography of the afterlife is similar to Egypt with canals, rivers, and swamps. Therefore, it is necessary to have to have various boats. This boat will magically transform into a life-sized boat on the way.

The Solar Boat with a throne and two steering paddles.

King Tut appears in various forms. On this reed skiff, he appears as Horus, son of Osiris who is the Lord of the Underworld. Holding a coiled rope in his left hand, he aims a spear at the evil god Seth, the jealous brother of Osiris. This artefact depicts the Pharaoh as a brave warrior ready to face the underworld.

Here, King Tut is seen on a skiff throwing a harpoon

The Pharaoh is now seen riding a black panther, a symbol of the night sky, as it carries him through the darkness of the Underworld. The panther is in the act of walking and has a gilded face and internal ears.

The gilded wooden shield shows King Tut slaying lions. From the precision of the work, it is deduced this shield is for ceremonial use only. Although not clear, he is wearing an atef crown. This has two horns, two feathers, and a sun disk in between. Lions were greatly feared and considered the cause of chaos. This artefact depicts the ability of the Pharaoh to control chaos and maintain universal order. The inscription states this and it also states that the Pharaoh is as strong as Montu, the falcon God of War, who is meant to protect the Pharaoh in wars. However, there is no record of King Tut fighting in any war.

King Tut slaying lions

Now King Tut is seen on a wooden ceremonial shield appearing as a sphinx, a lion’s body and a human head. He is seen trampling two Nubians, while the falcon Montu is behind protecting him. The fan symbolises his divinity.

The King as a Spinx

This is Ptah,who opens the mouth of the King in the burial chamber and so allows him to eat, drink, and speak in the netherworld. The blue cap is interesting. It is faience, which is glazed ceramic. Produced as far back as that! Ptah was the Lord of Memphis and creator of sculptors and artisans.


Herwer is another form of Horus as he conquered the evil Seth. The other figure is that of Duamutef. He is a son of Horus and he is the god who protects the King’s stomach.

Ptah, Herwer, and Duamutef were part of more than 30 statuettes found by Carter in the Treasury Room behind the burial chamber. These are made of hardwood, painted with a gesso (primer paint) base and then gilded. The eyes are obsidian and glass. The statuettes were kept stored in black chests, each with a folding door, which was fastened with a cord and seal.

According to Tarek, the wooden guardian statue of the Ka is one of the most important discoveries. Carter said that when he entered the antechamber, he saw two life-sized statues facing each other, like sentinels. They were gold kilted and sandaled, armed with a mace and staff, and had a sacred protective cobra on their foreheads. Tarek emphasised that of the two, only the one on display is on tour, and that it is the first time it is leaving Egypt.

Tarek points out that the eyes, made out of volcanic obsidian, have a distinct feature. When Carter looked into the eyes, they were not looking back! They are said to look into the afterlife and eternity. Truly amazing sculptors! The pictures below show the statue on display at the exhibition from two angles, as well a picture of how they were placed originally.

Image taken from:

This picture shows an array of shabti figurines. Those who pass through the test of the netherworld will arrive at the Yaara Fields where the shabti are present. They were the workforce – cultivating, irrigating and harvesting the fields. Those shown here are of a higher rank; they are supervisors and wear the royal headdress. The figurines were made of yellow limestone, glazed pottery, faience, alabaster, or wood.

An array of shabti figurines

After a bit of a wander, finally, there he was, lying amassed in amulets and gold – with gold finger and toe stalls, gold sandals, and a scarab beetle sitting on his chest between folded golden arms. His arms hold a flail (symbol of royal power) and a crook (indicating the King acts as a shepherd to his people). While the artefacts are genuine, King Tut’s mummy is a superbly created replica.

The full-sized replica of King Tut. Silver nails are visible at the bottom of the image.

After Carter removed the last of the last of the three nested gold coffins, revealing the mummy of King Tut, he found ornaments and trappings. These include gold finger and toe stalls (thimbles); gold sandals; silver nails; amulets within layers of linen, with gold bands inlaid with coloured glass to form a hieroglyph bearing the King’s name; and protective magic spells. Gold is considered the flesh of the Gods, hence its use in almost anything.

The finger and toe stalls.
Close up showing the scarab beetle on King Tut’s chest as well as his folded arms holding the royal symbols of the flail and crook.

Towards the end, a gallery tells of the discovery as well as of the DNA studies conducted and the resulting family tree. There is also a constant replay of a song ‘Old King Tut’ by Billy Jones & Ernest Hare, 1923. Of course, of the curse that the sponsor of the expedition, Lord Carnarvon, died just four months later, all this has been debunked.

We must not forget to give credit to the boy who made the ‘first step’, so to speak, in the discovery of the tomb. He was 12-year old Hussein Abdel-Rassoul; he was the water boy and he also made the tea for his father and Carter.

Hussein was clearing a space for his water jars on 4 November 1922 when, at one place, he cleared the sand and found a step beneath. This turned out to be the step down to King Tutankhamun’s tomb and the rest is as they say history. Later in 1925, Carter placed a gold pectoral chain, one of the finds, on Hussein and photographer Harry Burton took his photograph, which has become famous. Hussein never worked again. Instead, he stood in the area with this picture telling all tourists he was the one who discovered the tomb. He did this for more than 70 years and now his son is doing the same, telling the tourists of his father and the great discovery.

Carter’s work for Lord Carnarvon started in 1918 with five excavation seasons planned. Lord Carnarvon told Carter that 1922 would have to be the last. A few days after they restarted in November 1922, Hussein discovered the step and called Carter to see it. Few hours later, they found 16 steps to the tomb. Carter closed off the entrance and put sentries to guard it. He then sent a telegram to Lord Carnarvon requesting him to come over from England, which he did with his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert.

Carter cleaned the passage. They opened the door on 26th November 1922. Carter made a small hole in the door and was first to look in by a candlelight. Lord Carnarvon asked if he saw anything. Carter said ‘Yes, wonderful things’. This was the moment of the discovery.

There are so many more artefacts at the exhibition; these cannot be described here or this article will become a book. However, the final exhibit is a beautiful quartzite statue of King Tut. It is one of a pair, which may have stood in King Tut’s mortuary temple. King Tut’s name was inscribed on the belt, but it was replaced by the name of his successor, Ay, whose own name was also replaced by his successor, Horemhab.

The colossal quartzite statue of King Tutankhamun

What is so captivating about King Tut? Tarek answers that this is not because of his being the only intact tomb, but rather the amount of shining gold artefacts uncovered – over 5300 pieces found in the smallest tomb in the Valley of Kings. After 3300 years, King Tut instantly switched from forgotten to the most famous Egyptian King. He died when he was 19 years of age but little is known of him. As to his death, there are many theories including murder. However, recent forensic investigations show that he had a wounded leg, which might have been the cause.

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb is of cultural significance to the Egyptologists. Before discovery and after are two separate eras. Before discovery, it was about the buildings, the pyramids, tombs, etc. After the discovery, it was a window to a world of Pharaohs – to hold a treasure from the distant past in your hand, to see, to touch, and to learn from them.

At this point, I ask you to reflect a while. We ‘OOH!’ and ‘AHHH!’ when seeing and admiring the artefacts, but we should also think of the untold number of unknown and unnamed people who were the highly skilled artisans behind the creation of these intricate masterpieces. The designing, sourcing of materials, and creating them is truly a credit to them all and they deserve our admiration.

I will end with the narrative for this quartzite statue:

Today over 3300 years after his death, King Tutankhamun is the most famous of all the pharaohs. Everyday his name is spoken around the world and this, the Egyptians believed, is the power and magic of words. This will continue through the millennia, assuring the once-forgotten boy king of his immortality.

Saatchi Gallery is a very pleasant place in the Duke of York’s Headquarters, Sloane Square London. It is a place for contemporary art exhibitions, with a shop, educational facilities, and a restaurant. However, also spare a thought and a cheer to every person for his or her effort in holding this exhibition, which has some of the most precious artefacts in the world. From the early planning, preparing the place, packing, transporting, placing, guarding, hosting, and later the dismantling, and the move onwards. All in all, they made this an enjoyable visit.

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Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

2 thoughts on “King Tutankhamun”

  1. Great account with great illustrations on an exhibition of a widely-known and discussed topic. I am sure many among the MVs will be inspired to further reading and research.

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